Election Day for MJ: All Eyes on Ohio as Voters Decide Whether to Legalize Cannabis

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By John Schroyer

COLUMBUS, Ohio – It’s Election Day, and the cannabis industry is focused squarely on Ohio, which could make marijuana history tonight on several fronts.

Ohio is the only state with a legalization measure on the ballot, and the initiative itself is quite controversial, creating a split within the cannabis industry.

Voters in the state will decide whether to pass Issue 3, which would legalize both medical and recreational cannabis. If Issue 3 passes, it would represent the first time a state has legalized both MMJ and adult-use marijuana at the same time and under a single measure.

The initiative would also give investors who pumped millions of dollars into the legalization campaign sole control over the 10 cultivation licenses allowed under the proposal – another first for the industry.

At the same time, voters will vote on an amendment to the state Constitution that was written to deliberately undermine Issue 3. That measure, called Issue 2, would essentially prevent the type of cultivation monopoly the legalization initiative would create. If both Issue 2 and Issue 3 pass, there could be a legal battle post-election.

Marijuana Business Daily is on the ground in Columbus, where we’ll be posting updates throughout the day and evening as news makes its way in.

Here’s a look at where things stand heading into the tonight.

Down to the Wire

Nearly all of the polling in Ohio has shown that the vote on the legalization measure could go either way.

While an early poll from the spring found that an overwhelming majority of Ohioans support legalizing medical cannabis, the survey also found that only a slim majority are in favor of legalizing recreational.

A more recent poll released in late October found that voters are split on Issue 3 specifically, with 46% supporting the initiative and an identical percentage opposing it, while 8% are undecided.

Interestingly, the same poll also found that 53% of respondents think Issue 3 is a “bad idea” because it sets up a “monopoly on growing marijuana in Ohio.”

That seems to have been the main sticking point for ResponsibleOhio, the group behind Issue 3. While it easily racked up millions of dollars in campaign donations from wealthy people who will ultimately control cultivation if the measure passes, the political blowback from the move has cost the initiative a lot of support.

Industry Split

The marijuana industry and cannabis usually rally around legalization measures, even if they disagree on some of the specifics.

Not so in Ohio.

The measure has created a deep split in the industry.

Some fully back the measure as is, while others have offered tepid support even though many are concerned about the fact that only a handful of wealthy individuals will control cultivation. In both cases, these people see the business benefits of bringing a potentially huge new market into the fold.

“I see nothing but good,” Paul Unrue, co-owner of Ohio-based Atlapac, a packaging company that has a small presence in the cannabis industry. “I’ve seen what it’s done out in Denver as far as the economy. The entire state is booming. Ohio will just embrace it.”

But more than a handful of cannabis professionals – both in Ohio and elsewhere – have come out against the proposal, saying the oligopoly structure is too much to stomach.

“In my opinion, this whole thing is an absolute recipe for disaster,” said Andy Joseph, the president of Apeks Supercritical, an Ohio-based manufacturer of extraction equipment used in the cannabis industry. “I’m all for ending prohibition, but if this thing brings a black eye, it’s one step forward and two steps back.”

Joseph argued that Issue 3 could even potentially invite federal intervention in the industry in Ohio because not all of the wealthy investors in the campaign have been publicly disclosed. That could set up a scenario, he suggested, where the DEA would be concerned about who exactly is running and profiting from the marijuana trade.

That could then adversely affect the industry as a whole, including Apeks.

“I think it has the potential to harm my business more than it does to help it,” Joseph said.

Garrett Fortune, a Cleveland resident and CEO of FunkSac, has yet a third viewpoint. He’s been torn for weeks over how he’s going to vote, because he agrees with both Joseph and Unrue.

“There’s better ways to go about it,” Fortune said. “What we all think is, yeah, it’s great for legalization, but the way it’s written is not the right way. I haven’t heard of any supporters from the industry.”

The measure also hasn’t been getting positive reviews outside of Ohio, either.

“I’m not crazy about the structure and the way the language sets up a monopoly for these growers, but at the same time, it’s better than throwing people in jail,” Michigan dispensary owner Mark Passerini. “It just sets a dangerous precedent moving forward.”

Not Many Organized Backers

ResponsibleOhio also hasn’t been able to rack up a lot of institutional in-state support, which could prove critical in whether this passes or fails.

While the campaign has gotten endorsements (and probably logistical help) from several chapters of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Ohio ACLU, the AFL-CIO has refused to commit to an endorsement. National groups, including Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance, are notably sitting this one out.

A similar split occurred in the African-American community, with the Ohio NAACP recently coming out against Issue 3, while a former Cleveland City Council president and head of that city’s NAACP chapter vocally supported the initiative.

The list of opponents is also lengthy – including Gov. John Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, and even the Green Party of Ohio – while highly visible supporters have been few and far between.

All of this adds up to a ton of uncertainty heading into the night.

John Schroyer can be reached at johns@mjbizmedia.com